A while ago we took a detailed look at strokes in Transactional Analysis (1 & 2) and we saw how these strokes represent the foundation of, well, everything. They are – on a psychological level – as vital as the air we breathe. That being said, however, they are not the only elements which allow us to function in a healthy way. According to Transactional Analysis theory and not only, each person has a few basic needs and some other less vital ones. You’re probably thinking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs right now.
That is a good start. While the words might differ, the core ideas stay the same. In T.A., we talk about the need for recognition, stimulation and structure as being fundamental needs for each human being. Just like babies cannot survive without their mothers taking care of their physiological needs, they cannot survive without being stroked (for example, feeding the baby is a stroke). Same thing – different words.
While we already covered the need for recognition and stimulation, we never got to talk about the need for structure.
Because the possibilities are endless, so are the risks in interacting with others. Which means that we like (or at the very least prefer) to know what to expect, especially in situations that are less familiar. Time structuring offers just that.
Picture this: you start a new job in a place where you don’t know anyone. This will most probably make you feel uncomfortable or even bring you close to a panic attack. You don’t know any of those people. What if they are going to start an uncomfortable conversation with you? Or even worse – what if they are going to ignore you?
Fortunately, they might feel just as uncomfortable as you do. Granted, this doesn’t solve your problem or theirs, but at least it levels the field. And because none of you have lived in a cave until now, you all know how social interactions should go. You say “Hi!”, they say “Hi!”, a few days go by, you get used to their presence, you start talking about the weather and so on. As this goes on, the level of anxiety and awkwardness starts decreasing, and you might even become friends.
Long story short, we need and like structure because it makes us feel safe. It offers us the sensation that we are in control and that we decide if we ever want to take a risk. Time structuring offers us a model of interacting with others in such a way that we get to (or at least seek to) satisfy our core needs.
Each person will go through these ways of interacting with others differently. While some people are more introverted, enjoying withdrawal more than anything else, others will seek out games in almost every relationships they have. And just like Maslow stated that only few people reach self-actualization, Berne believed that we only spend 2% (at most) of our lives in a state of intimacy. Of course, many people disagree with both Maslow and Berne.